By BosNewsLife Asia Service
KATHMANDU, NEPAL (BosNewsLife)– Nepali Christians say proposed amendments to the country’s new constitution, expected to come into effect this August after seven years of parliamentary discussions, could render all Christian activity illegal.
“Christians are deeply concerned that the draft, though it affirms the right to profess and practise one’s own religion, criminalizes evangelism and conversion,” added Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), an advocacy group following the situation.
VOMC noted that an article states that “any act to convert another person from one religion to another, or any act or behaviour to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another (will be) punishable by law.”
The group said Christians fear that if the latest draft is passed, regular Christian activities, such as holding church services accessible to all “or even simply organizing events to aid the disadvantaged”, could be “interpreted as being evangelistic and, therefore, considered an offense.”
Once the world’s only Hindu kingdom, Nepal was declared a secular, democratic republic in May of 2006. However, Hindu nationalists have run a highly successful propaganda campaign convincing Nepalis that “secularism” will lead to mass conversions to the detriment of Nepalese culture, according to church observers.
C.B. Gahatraj, a representative of the Federation of National Christian Nepal, said in published remarks that that the number of Christians in the Himalayan nation is underestimated, adding that people are not being forced to convert. “Hindu groups may have been alarmed by the fact that people who were praying quietly earlier are doing so openly now,” he said.
“All citizens must be allowed to practise the religion of their choice freely.”
David Kainee, another concerned Nepali believer, said the implementation of the new constitution could be potentially disastrous.
“For peace and prosperity, we need to defeat the forces of religious extremism in the country, otherwise Nepal is sure to take the path of communal politics like in the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries where hundreds of people are being killed in religious violence every day,” he added in remarks distributed by VOMC.
“Let’s close the chapter of giving a political colour to religion which is polarizing Nepali society, and instead plant the seeds of tolerance and unity,” Kainee stressed.
A new constitution is a key part of the peace deal with the Maoist rebels, who became a major political force in the country.
Maoist rebels waged a decade-long campaign against the monarchy, which was abolished in 2008, following a conflict that reportely left more than 12,000 people dead and 100,000 people displaced. according to United Nations figures.
Nepal remains at odds with neighbouring Bhutan over the repatriation of thousands of Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese descent who fled violence in Bhutan in the early 1990s, observers say.
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